We Greeks are right to be concerned by the sudden election campaign in Turkey, as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the opposition parties try to outdo each other in nationalistic fervor. But what comes next – the country that will emerge from this – will be far more important. All indications are that Turkish society will be even more polarized and the country will continue to show an aggressive face abroad. Because the new Turkey is being born in an abnormal way.
The way in which the snap elections were called is not normal, nor is the unsettled situation in the country and on its borders. The presidential and parliamentary elections of June 24 will show the extent to which Turkey has already been bent to Erdogan’s will. With the opposition unprepared, with justice and the media under tight government control, with new laws encouraging electoral skullduggery, the Turkish president is moving to acquire the powers that he already wields through the state of emergency that was imposed after the failed coup of 2016 and which is renewed every three months. It’s worth noting that last year’s referendum, which established the executive presidency’s broad-ranging powers, was also conducted under the state of emergency regulations, with opposing voices shut out, and despite this, the changes were approved by a margin narrower than 2 percent. Erdogan lost all major cities – even suburbs that had voted for him before.
That is why the Turkish president seized the opportunity to hasten the elections that were scheduled for November 2019. Although today he may appear omnipotent and the situation is strongly in his favor, he knows that things can quickly take a turn for the worse. The economy has begun to slide; the invasion and occupation of part of northern Syria may please the public but will soon become a political and diplomatic headache; tension with Greece and Cyprus may raise passions but at some point will prove fruitless; Ankara will have to choose between Russia and the Western Alliance, losing face among the nationalists whom it now encourages.
Most important, however, is the fact that the new Turkey will reflect the will and behavior of a mercurial individual. It will marry an Islamic revival with intense nationalism; while proclaiming the self-conscious dogma of “precious loneliness” it will suppress all domestic dissent; its pretense of a “non-aligned” foreign policy will depend on ever-changing and shaky alliances. Turks will suffer the most from this. But it will take all of Greece’s strengths, its unexploited skills, all of its diplomatic capital, to deal with what may come next.